Full Circles

Circular thinking

Career moves at 60 years of age aren't exactly easy. The last time I'd interviewed for a position was over 12 years ago. Let me explain.

In December of 2013, my corporate job as a Sr. Proposal Manager for a national construction firm was eliminated in a reorganization. I took a month off to gather my thoughts and decide what was next (I was living at the beach in Santa Cruz at the time so taking time off wasn't so difficult). But I was undecided about what direction to take. Should I continue the hybrid existence as a part-time blogger and author coupled with a corporate position? Or, should I start a consulting business as a proposal manager and just keep going on a similar career path?

After a month of mulling it over, I started my own consulting business essentially doing the same job for many of the firms I worked alongside during the previous ten years. As I soon learned, going to work often required travel -flights, cars, and hotels on my own dime- and coupled with the reality of large firms slow-paying their consultants, I tired of the unpredictable cash flow. Then my father became gravely ill and I moved to San Jose to take care of him, in essence putting off the decision to return to the corporate world again. After a three-year battle with both Alzheimer's dementia and pulmonary fibrosis, he passed away earlier this year. 

I was now in a place to decide my future. I still felt the urge to return to the corporate setting and be a part of a productive team (it can be a rather solitary existence as a consultant, even for an introvert). I updated my resume, opened accounts on all the major job boards, and began responding to listings. 

My questions are different now

In the early stages of my career, the questions I asked of potential employers usually had to do with salary, benefits packages, and how much vacation I'd be accruing. But now the questions in my INFJ brain were altogether different because for the first time I was applying for positions within companies that were essentially part of the modern workplace replete with open office settings, buffet lunches, and on-site laundry facilities.

Could I survive in such an environment where everyone wears headphones to block out the ambient noise yet remains engaged in 8-hour group-think-chat throughout the day?"

The very thought of being in such an environment was enough to bring on a panic attack. I'd needed to know not only what I was looking for in an ideal situation, but what I couldn't handle and would have to refuse.

My questions for potential employers reflected my age and my empathic nature: questions such as...

  1.  Will I have to work in an open office setting (that will undoubtedly mess with my empathic needs for solo environments)?
  2.  Will I be offered a benefits package (since many of the positions I've applied for are contract based)?
  3.  Will daily decisions be team decisions or will I have autonomy in decision making (I'm not a 20-something)?
  4.  Is the coffee brown water or is it real coffee (Starbucks or Peets)(kidding, not kidding)  :roll: 

These were the type of questions were at the top of my list.

However, one positive aspect about being 60 and looking for work is that most firms are conscious of not low-balling an offer."

They understand the experience factor that many younger applicants don't possess to the same degree. This ultimately worked to my advantage and after a number of phone interviews that didn't lead anywhere, I was eventually asked back for a second and in one case, a third interview. Some were panel interviews, others were one-on-one.

I was fortunate that I eventually had three opportunities from which to choose, though each had their drawbacks, and included: 

  1. A writer/editor position working for the U.S. Department of Energy at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories - essentially a research installation focused on nuclear applications. The position didn't pay as much as the other two, but it was local to the SF Bay Area and wasn't too bad of a commute. I envisioned riding my BMW 1150GS back and forth the 34 miles each way...something I'd grown to miss about commuting.
  2. A proposal manager position working for an engineering firm in Oakland. It would have been a hellish commute each day in rush hour traffic without the opportunity for exploring staggered work hours. Another negative was the open seating arrangement without any private office space. That might work for Millennials looking for a 'fun place' to work, but for my empathic, introverted personality it would be more like a prison sentence.
  3. A proposal manager position working for a global construction firm; a position that mimicked my pre-layoff position of four years earlier. The offer was great, but it would require me to relocate to Southern California and moving away from my girlfriend.

Back in the corporate saddle

After no small amount of soul-searching and several deep discussions with both my youngest son (21) who would move with me and my girlfriend who couldn't, I opted for the third opportunity and have since relocated to Orange County in Southern California. Though it meant moving away from the one person I wanted to be around the most, it was the right choice from both financial and career perspectives. 

I'm grateful for the relocation package that was part of my offer as well as the paid temporary corporate housing. It's been very positive being a part of this team while learning new strategies and tools for achieving common goals. The office is full of positively-minded professionals and I couldn't be more content with where I landed.

While this has been a positive move professionally, on the personal front there have been challenges. Karen and I are learning how to be a committed couple in a long-distance relationship. The time between our bi-weekly visits gets rough at times, but we are learning to cope with it. 

You might be reading this and be thinking to yourself, 

Why in the world would you move away from the woman you love for a job?" 

It's a thought that I confront and wrestle with a few times each week, if not every day. And it's one that has no easy answer. The best I can come up with is, "Because I needed to."

For many reasons, I needed to take this position and make this move. I'm 60, on the downhill side of my career, and as Karen and I have said many times, "At least it's not New Jersey." Nothing against the Garden State, but with only 500 miles between us, a one-hour plane ride isn't as bad as a five-hour flight. Had I been in the midwest or on the east coast, it would be another story, perhaps with a different ending. 

I also needed to get away from most everything that had become associated with my life in the Bay Area. My three years serving as a caretaker for my parents had depleted me of emotional and financial reserves. Relationships with the environment and its employment market had become toxic. When it was time to choose, I chose as wisely as I could.

Completing the circle

I grew up in Southern California in the 70s; Envision longish hair, bell bottom pants, Hawaiian shirts, puka shell necklaces, and Disco. Yeah, I sometimes cringe when I think about all that, too. 

Relocating back here, even though I'm about 60 miles from where I grew up, feels in many ways like I'm completing a circle. Although as a kid I was moved all around the country, finally landing in Southern California by age 12, I've always considered it my hometown because it's where I came of age, where I fell in love for the first time, where my heart was broken for the first time, where I landed my first real job, etc.

I didn't envision this particular circle completing, but it has. In returning to the region, I've come in contact with many of my old friends whom either never left or who have also completed their own similar circle. 

Circles have the feel of completeness about them. Maybe it's why my Apple Watch represents my movement and fitness goals each day in either complete or incomplete circles. Perhaps that's why so many of my old friends have also migrated back from various parts of the country. There is a comfort within this circular journey that was unexpected.

However, my personal circle isn't complete. It simply can't be without her.

For now, I will -as she told me just this morning- lean into and sit with this feeling of incompleteness. For it is only by confronting it, facing it, and being with it...that we will know it and be able to move on together.